School aged children from 6 to 12 years of age have their own mental health needs. This is a time when childhood development includes cognitive, physical, language and social/emotional growth. Cognitively they are participating in expanded classroom learning with ever extending attention spans. Physically they are increasing in their abilities within what they can accomplish in movement and possibly participating in activities like sport or dance. They also are at the beginning of the change puberty brings. Their expanse and use of language skills increases from reading short books to forming opinions on what they read, listening with intent, and even giving speeches. Socially and emotionally school aged children go from learning to cooperate with others and navigating jealousy to having best friends, seeing things from another person’s perspective and beginning to feel peer pressure. Generally, it is a long way to go in a few short years. All of this change doesn’t take into account other difficulties like dealing with bullies or changes to their home environment. For the last year every one of us have been enduring the impact of a global pandemic in which children have endured huge changes to their routines, breaks in the continuity of their learning and health care, missed significant life events and a loss of security and felt safety.
As parents or grandparents with busy lives and many responsibilities, we have to navigate how to help our children when they experience difficulties. We often ask them to pay attention when we are teaching or correcting them. This is the same best practice for helping children navigate these years and all their added responsibilities and concerns. Pay attention. Check in on their emotional needs being met. Notice the little variations in mood or behavior. Be the listening ear they may not be getting elsewhere. In other words, keep doing what you’re doing.
Remember that physical health is closely related to mental health for us all, this may have been neglected due to the pandemic so where possible schedule doctor well visits, dental and vision check-ups.
Many children experience occasional fears and worries, or disruptive behaviors. When school age children exhibit serious changes in the way they typically learn, behave, or handle their emotions that causes distress and problems getting through the day and if symptoms are severe and persistent and interfere with school, home or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with a mental disorder. Among the more common mental disorders that can be diagnosed in childhood are ADHS, anxiety and behavior disorders such as ODD. These need not be a label a child is saddled with but a way that provides direction in guiding treatment.
Some children also encounter an adjustment disorders which can occur with a child’s response to significant change in their life such as a family move, parental divorce or death of someone close to the child. Children’s emotional responses vary with some showing symptoms of anxiety, depression, conduct disorders or a mix of symptoms and diagnoses. Working with children’ in these circumstances to increase their felt sense of safety in what has become to them an unsafe world. As with preschool children, play therapy is an effective tool, being how they often best communicate thoughts and feelings.
As parents and guardians, you are your always your child’s biggest support. Trust your instincts and find ways to give yourself and your child self-care by carving out time for fun. Your play as a family can be a significant factor in increasing the well-being of school aged children.